Need for power coal threatens Zimbabwe national park

A A A

Zimbabwe's already dim electricity supply faces a new threat, as the country's main power plant says it needs to dig for new coal reserves under a river inside a national park to keep running.

Hwange Colliery says it only has enough coal to power its 940 megawatt plant for three more years.

Shortages of coal and working capital, as well as ageing and broken equipment, have already forced the shutdown of three smaller power stations across Zimbabwe, causing daily blackouts that have plagued the country for years.

The company says its only viable new deposits of coal suitable for power generation lie in the heart of the Hwange national park, under a river that supplies nearby towns - including the world-famous Victoria Falls - as well as thousands of endangered animals.

Accessing the new coal would mean strip mining one of the environmentally delicate region's few water supplies.

"The coal is submerged under water, so we have to find ways of de-watering the adjacent rivers in the area," Fred Moyo, the company's managing director, told AFP.

"We only have three years left of power coal although initial indications were that we have power coal that would take us at least another 15 years."

De-watering would shift the flow of rivers to allow access to the coal, but in the process will create huge pools of polluted water.

Hwange national park covers an area half the size of Switzerland on the edge of the Kalahari, where every drop of water is valuable. It's also home to all of Zimbabwe's endangered species, including 45,000 elephants.

Existing mines still have plenty of industrial-grade coal, but that variety burns so hot that it would overheat the generators, Moyo said.

Lovemore Mungwashu, operations coordinator for WWF, said mining the new coal reserves would pose huge problems for the region.

"Our greatest concern is how Hwange will put in place measures that will affect not only the wildlife, but communities within town," he told AFP.

"Hwange Colliery should first address how it going to handle the issue of contaminated water before it starts any underground mining and de-watering plans," he said.

Zimbabwe also has the 750 megawatt Kariba hydro-power dam, but it suffers chronic breakdowns due to a lack of spare parts and expertise, adding to pressure on Hwange.

"Hwange Colliery's role in the economy of Zimbabwe is of great strategic importance, as coal is a vital source of energy in a country where hydro-electrical power generation has perennially broken down," Moyo said.

Since President Robert Mugabe and his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed a unity government in February, the economy has slowly started to mend after a decade of collapse.

Industrial activity has been rising since the local currency was abandoned in January, but growth is limited by the scant power supply, and many industries are operating at only 10 percent of their capacity.

Zimbabwe spends millions of dollars importing electricity from its neighbours, just to keep the lights on some of the time in parts of the country, which at times goes for 15 to 20 hours without electricity.

Hwange Colliery is looking at other options, including setting up a methane gas plant that would burn fewer carbon emissions than coal and prevent the need for more mining, Moyo said.

But that would require a 10 million dollar investment, money which Zimbabwe doesn't have. Moyo said the company has lined up possible partners, but is still waiting for government approval for the project.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all